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Wayfinding… how to get from Pandemic to Design

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MAY 24, 2021 Sr. Principal Jack Muffoletto

This pandemic has felt like a vice with constant pressure coming from so many directions…. Business decisions including employees and rent… keeping people safe… remote working… remote learning….
It feels like as soon as one issue is worked out, the situation changes and we are back to square 1.
Sometimes you just need to take a deep breath, maybe do yoga… or, what about creating something from nothing with good design.

In our business, there is always the need to create an experience to bring customers back. We are living in a time where a lot of us are experiencing new things as we work our way through these tough times and ‘getting back’ is something that we all have been waiting for. Some of us are just looking for a sense of direction. We are hoping we can provide a little direction. In today’s blog, we are talking about Signage and Wayfinding.  Most of our projects rely on a strong emphasis on graphics to enhance the guest experience.

Regal Cinemas Stadium 16, community inspired ‘mountain silhouette’ auditorium entry signage.

The goal is to impact the experience beyond just the functional aspects of the customer journey. For example, to engage the customer, we might think about connecting the client brand with the community that the facility exists in.  There could also be the idea of visually telling a story of a place through murals, wall graphics, art, wall hangings, sculpture, etc. This gesture works to foster the project as an important part of the community.  In fact, oftentimes it is an opportunity to uncover stories of a community that can be expressed and celebrated.

Regal West Oaks concession Mural in the Energy corridor of Houston.

The graphics and interior design should always support the overall design narrative of a project. Visual elements are strategically placed to immerse customers providing a visual cue that could be welcoming, directional, or even a selfie opportunity!

New technologies are available to assist the designer. Monitors can effectively be programmed for any function: wayfinding, ads, menus, etc. We realize clients want the flexibility to keep up with changes and this is particularly true when dealing with complex buildings and large groups of customers that need signage, and wayfinding.  Monitors can do this. The use of digital technology allows us to provide real-time information. Also, apps are available to inform the customer. After all, the mobile phone is everyone’s connection to the environment.

Digital content boards, Marcus Ypsilanti

Other tools are available to create a unique and memorable experience like storytelling. Consider what makes up the personality of the destination, like stories of the community, the owner, the history of the building…. What makes it special?  What is the personality of the destination?  Is it simple and memorable? …Is it timeless, a gateway, diverse, a landmark?  Every destination has a story and every story has a destination. Every destination, like people, is unique and different from one to the next.

The designer’s assignment is to provide our clients a clear understanding of the intended overall design experience of being in a specific environment and navigating that environment.  How do we translate a vision and concept into an environment? 

Core to the design process, we may start with one or several brainstorming methods like words and phrases, hand sketching, sticky notes, trace paper, white board, inspirational photos, etc.  To visualize initial ideas and to advance/eliminate good and bad ideas, we progress to preliminary plans and elevations that communicate scale and adjacencies.  A key detail or motif may be developed that is repeated.  A ceiling or light fixture, material, or any other element may become a feature.  The progression evolves to 3D modeling to study form, proportion and color.  Ultimately, realistic renderings are developed to help our clients understand the experience of the space.

Premium Conceptual Rendering

In general, people thrive on the social interaction that public spaces create. We fully expect people to be eager to be together again, out in a thriving public realm.  When they return signage and wayfinding will be the tour guide to their experience.

Trends for signage and wayfinding we expect to see include timeless, rather than trendy solutions. For that reason, we see the use of proven traditional materials like stained woods, natural stone, luxury vinyl, painted metals, brick, tile, etc., and pure geometries as a foundation of our design.  Traditional materials come in a variety of textures and tend to be more durable and have an attractive appearance.  Technology will continue to play a vital role.  AI and AR will continue to be more integrated.  But the basis of our focus relies on the integration of function, art, storytelling, placemaking, color, materials, lighting, etc. to bring people together, logically move them through designed space and elevate the human experience.

I can be grumpy when I am tired, stressed, hungry, and when things don’t go my way.  But there’s something inspirational about a good song, a stunning photo of nature, or a solid, well-thought-out design that pleases a client and provides a reset amid the stresses of the day, even if only for that one moment of pleasing interaction.

Couldn’t we all use a little more of that in our lives?

Sr. Principal Jack Muffoletto

Welcome to Bliss Point – Experiential Dining

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The new table, experiential restaurants are in vogue.  Dining out isn’t only about eating and drinking, it’s about the entire dining experience.  Diners want to feel like they are getting more than a meal.  They expect more out of their time at the bar or restaurant – they want that extraordinary experience.  They crave that “experience” that creates memories, and with this, they are willing to pay extra. 

With the influence of today’s technology and trends providing a memorable experience has become a necessity.  Today’s patrons are searching for that “new and exciting experience” it’s culinary wanderlust.  The basic elements of operating an alluring restaurant are still very important – great food, first-rate drinks, good service, cleanliness, and appealing design.  Blending the experience with the deliciousness of each bit is how to optimize your success.

Welcome to Bliss Point – experiential dining that looks to augment your experience with flavor!  Renowned American market researcher and psychophysicist Howard Moskowitz describes bliss point as “that sensory profile where you like the food the most.”  It is the combination of sugar, salt, and fat that act synergistically and are more rewarding than any one ingredient.  This is the same essence that is used in good design – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Bliss Point is a case study that TK Architects has developed to create a uniquely designed space that puts experiential dining at the for-front.  The use of technology, innovation, quirky themes, unexpected strategies, and thoughtful design geared towards creating extraordinary encounters for your guest. The notion of creating immersive spaces that really drives the experience, consumers are responding to these extravagant forms of design and décor.

Bliss Point is entered through a portal intended to transport patrons from their daily rituals into a multi-sensory dining experience.  Patrons are greeted by a host, an astronaut, and their pet tiger (this place is Instagram heaven)!  The restaurant is organized around a central bar (be careful not to scare the flamingos) that provides views to each unique experiential dining room.  The experiences are as follows:

  • Experiential food museum – a hybrid space devoted to a cultural phenomenon of putting food on the art spaces table.  The gallery walls liven the museum space with peculiar art pieces.
  • Hipster family space – an era-specific space that conjures up days of the past and fun that only the undecade could bring!  The nostalgia-centric experience created by this space is one that is rooted in the desire of the traveler to feel connected to a world that they knew.
  • Pop-up dining event – the focal point here isn’t necessarily the food, but the combination of the senses that create something unique.
  • Multi-sensory dining experience – the use of projection mapping and active lighting enhance the dining experience.  The high-tech design allows for an ever-changing space and offers the patrons the ability to be transported anywhere as a paring component with the course.
  • Dining pods – social distancing at its finest, diners are cocooned in glass houses.  Individual pods let patrons experience intimate dining within an active space.
    • Experimental cocktail lounge – boozy lounge space that adds another layer to the experiential atmosphere bringing smoke and stage performers.

    Turning dining into an event may be the key to unlocking a higher check average. Check out the survey data from EventBrite:

    • 75% of people believe unique dining experiences are worth paying more for
    • 50% of people would pay more for the exact same menu if it had a chef interaction
    • 59% of people say cost does not impact their attendance but the menu, uniqueness, and location do

    So the stakes seem high for restaurant operations to excel at making every dining experience memorable.  Given the passion for adventure, it’s no wonder that consumers express a preference for paying for an experience rather a product.  Blending product and performance may be a recipe for success.  TK Architects is a leader in the experiential design market – let us help you in creating your dream.

    Chad H. Philhour

    Resiliency for Cinemas to Rebound and Thrive

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    DECEMBER 8, 2020

    Resiliency is not a new term for the Cinema Industry.  The industry has faced adversity in the past but economically has always been the Teflon industry.  Cinema has survived TV as noted by Greg Marcus:

    “My grandfather, I know one of the ways he built the business after TV came along — so let’s talk about the fact that this industry does endure some significant shocks. And it endures. The keyword being endure. He went around to people who were getting theaters back and said, ‘Look, we’re going to partner. Because it’s going to come back at some level.’ And he was right. So I think there could be opportunities like that as we look forward.”

    Greg Marcus

    Marcus Theatres CEO Says Biz Endured “Significant Shocks” Before — Q3 Earnings – Deadline

    After TV, cinema has survived the rise of VCRs, DVDs, and streaming.  At TK Architects, a nearly 40-year-old firm that has specialized in Cinema, Entertainment, and F&B since its inception, we believe cinema will survive the pandemic and can thrive again.  Building on our expertise, we challenge our architectural and engineering staff to develop dozens of concepts for cinema business post-pandemic.  We have also seen our vendor partners with longer histories than us pivot and provide creative solutions that are helping cinemas (and other industries) meet their immediate needs during the pandemic.  To move beyond surviving and back to thriving the question needs to be what is next for cinemas?

    Converting to recliners and elevating food offerings implementation continues to be key improvements for re-inventing the industry.

    Examining what is next for cinema is something TK thinks about every year since our creation but in a formalized way for the last 9 years.  Provoking a conversation tailored to a client’s individual needs while thinking about those needs differently is what we strive to accomplish with these concepts.  Sometimes the ideas push the envelope with a dreamer’s surrealism and other times they are perceived as achievable with some additional creativity. One of my favorite activities has been showing them to various clients and hearing their responses.  Clients can visualize them for their own brands.  Deciding the factors that go into the path to resiliency are unique to each location.

    Covered speaker concept that was later executed by a client.
    Urban outdoor cinema concept.

    Right-sizing for new construction and re-demising for renovation are parallel paths that clients have taken and both remain relevant.  Reducing screen count is one approach.  This can provide negotiation options for discussion with the Landlord by giving back space.  Another approach we see as viable is repurposing the extra space for new entertainment uses.  Reuse ideas can include an expanded bar or a kitchen to convert the facility to dine-in.  Bowling, arcade, or trampoline are also repurposing options.

    Re-demised cinema that reduced screens from 24 to 14.

    Concept for repurposing an auditorium as a bar adjacent to the Lobby.

    Repurposing for event cinema, e-sports and gaming or other experiential cinema helps to diversify revenue streams making a location less dependent on Hollywood (or local content as the location may dictate). All of these alternatives can draw audiences to a facility at varied times beyond the prime Friday and Saturday night slots.  Finding the right mix for your facility requires research and testing.

    Capitalizing on the information and data that an exhibitor has access to from their loyalty programs can factor into additional amenity research.  As cinemas diversify their offerings, avoiding the struggle cinemas experienced when first managing kitchens for dine-in by adding people knowledgeable in these different areas will help the ventures succeed.  The road to rebounding and thriving will be paved with combinations of the elements mentioned here.  We look forward to helping to steer clients to the road that works for them.

    Theresa English

    Freedom is Never Free

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    November 11, 2020

    I am Steve Petracek, a Principal at TK Architects and a CDR in the US Navy Reserves and I want to say thank you and express my thoughts on this Veteran’s Day.  I am in the Navy Reserves and only a few months short of achieving the 20-year mark, but I have no retirement plans.  The military has helped me grow in ways I couldn’t see 20 years ago.  There have been some good times and some bad times, but all of them have helped shape me into the person I am today.

    I joined the Navy in May of 2001, only months before the 9-11 attacks.  My wife and I had discussed the time and effort it would take, but we had no idea what lay before us.  I have only completed two deployments during my time.   My first tour was to Kuwait in 2006-2007 for eight months, with my second one to Afghanistan in 2012-2013 for 12 months, with each providing unique experiences.

    In Kuwait, I was a lieutenant tasked to provide engineering management for small construction projects in the state’s eastern part.  My home was Camp Arifjan, and my focus was on overseeing projects that provided safety and resource staging for our troops.  I had the continual support of the Kuwait military in all I did.  I can’t imagine letting any other sovereign nation establish a base on US territory, yet they did and were very thankful.

    My trip to Afghanistan was an entirely different story.  I was the operations officer for the battalion, and I started this position a year before our unit was to deploy.  What the means is I was responsible for training and preparing 550 people through classes and field exercises to face the austere and hostile environment Afghanistan was at that time.

    For any of you who have seen “Band of Brothers,” a bond does form with people who endure hardships together.  Shortly after leaving Afghanistan, I read a quote that best describes the deployment.  It has stayed with me, and the further I get from my time there, the more real it rings, “I am homesick for a place I never wanted to call home.”  The bonds created there are forever locked in me that time will never take away.

    I have been blessed in many ways.  I have a wonderful family that has supported me and been there every step of my journey, as well as an understanding and appreciative company that has bent over backward to help any way they can.  As my family will attest, these 19+ years have not always been easy.  The time away is difficult, and each of us changed in ways we didn’t think.  We have ridden the rollercoaster through numerous hills.  The best and worst times followed each other closely.  The joy of coming home from a year’s deployment was followed immediately by anger and resentment.  We never went back to the way we were, but we always found a path through the hardships.

    There is so much more I could say, and if you ever want to listen to it, I would love to grab a cup of coffee and talk about it.  Good or bad, I am thankful for the opportunities to serve my country.  I am so very grateful for what my country has provided me, and it has been my pleasure to give back in some measure.

    Non sibi sed patriae.

    Steven Petracek